Thursday, 11 November 2021

You're better off without him, love!

A Cat, a Man, and Two Women According to the Wikipedia page Cats and the Internet, "images and videos of domestic cats make up some of the most viewed content on the web". It goes further: "viewing online cat media is related to positive emotions, and ... it even may work as a form of digital therapy or stress relief".

Can the same be said for feline-centric literature? After finishing a couple of rather depressing books, I began Jun'ichiro Tanizaki's A Cat, a Man, and Two Women hoping for some cat induced Covid stress relief.

Published in 1936 the story provides a portrait of a Japanese marriage in the early 20th century. It begins with a letter from Shinako, the wife abandoned and divorced by her ex, Shozo, written to her replacement, Fukuko. No-one is fooled by its contents, in which she begs to be given Lily, her husband's cat, to keep her company. It's an attempt to bait Shozo into visiting his ex-wife so that she can win him back.

But Lily is no ordinary cat, indeed no cat owner believes their cat to be ordinary. She's a tortoiseshell, not Japanese, and has an appealing personality, "her wild tomboyish ways were just like those of a seven- or eight-year-old girl, a primary-school student at her most mischievous".

Shozo himself is a man-child, spoiled and feckless. The only things he really wants to do are "raise cats, play a little billiards, fiddle about with potted bonsai trees, and flirt with waitresses at cheap cafes".

As for the two wives, Fukuko prefers an easy life, just like Shozo. She "was not really as fond of cats as her husband imagined. Her affections were forced by two considerations: the desire to accommodate Shozo’s tastes and to spite Shinako". The divorcee is hard-working, able to support herself with sewing, and "for the past one or two years provided more than half the income for the family, ‘weak woman’ though she was". I found myself rooting for Shinako, in my head shouting "you're better off without him, love!"

It's definitely a book for cat lovers. The descriptions of Lily and her behaviour are recognisable to anyone who's ever owned a cat. It's a light-hearted, entertaining story with engaging characters. Who gets the cat, who gets Shozo, and who gets the happy ending? You'll have to read it yourself to find out.

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